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24 April 2012

Shirley, you can be serious

Mac261I knew I was in big trouble when Shirley MacLaine walked into the room for our interview back in the mid '90s and was unhappy with the way the lights were set up.

At least I thought I knew.  I was correct in assuming that meant a delay while the crew moved lights around (basically off me, on her) to Ms. MacLaine's satisfaction.

But that's all water under the bridge, or shadows under the bridge of my nose, as it were.  After all, as the unsinkable movie star of five or six decades proclaims at the top of her website, "Life is a bowl of cherries ... Nevermind the pits."

Today (April 24) is MacLaine's 78th birthday, so a couple of thoughts before moving on:

Happy birthday Shirley, Aurora Greenway ("Terms of Endearment" and "The Evening Star"), Ouiser Boudreaux ("Steel Magnolias"), Eve Rand ("Being There"), Charity ("Sweet Charity"), Irma La Douce ("Irma La Douce"), Fran Kubelik ("The Apartment"), Simone Pistache ("Can-Can"), Jennifer Rogers ("The Trouble with Harry") and all MacLaine's incarnations that came before.

Secondly, one my most anticipated movies in some time is Texas director Richard Linklater's "Bernie," which stars Jack Black and MacLaine and co-stars Texan Matthew McConaughey. 

Based on actual macabre events that unfolded in the East Texas town of Carthage in the 1990s, "Bernie" revolves around the local mortician (Black) who befriended, then shot, then stuffed the wealthy "meanest" woman (MacLaine) in town into a freezer. 

Click here for a link to an excellent article that appeared in The New York Times Magazine about the sordid little slice of Texas pie.

I'm pretty sure I sat down with MacLaine to chat about "The Evening Star" when we tripped the lights not so fantastic in 1996.  To be honest, I traveled so much doing celebrity interviews back then all the luxury hotels, movie stars and room service tends to blur a little. 

Let's just say "Total Recall" has long been merely a movie title for me.

That day in New York, Chicago or Los Angeles in some posh hotel suite temporarily disfigured by cables, cameras, lights and people (the crew, a diva's handlers) and an interviewer fighting flop sweat remains a vivid memory, however.

I was semi-terrified; nope, all the way there.  As I sat almost knee-to-knee with a major movie star some might consider "difficult" while the crew tinkered with the lights, all I could think of was, "Say something, idiot!"

Before I could put my inept ignorance on full display, MacLaine (the purest definition of "seasoned pro") took the lead and launched into comfortable, friendly chat to fill the time.  In a complete about-face from the major star-interviewer dynamic, Ms. MacLaine took the opportunity to learn about me.

I've recalled that event many times (OK, not totally recalled).  I appreciate the six-time Academy Award nominee and Best Actress winner for "Terms of Endearment" (1983) for being so gracious when she didn't have to be.

Maybe I reminded her of someone from her past.  In another life perhaps; or -- Dare I think it?-- even a future one.

Shirley MacLaine and Jack Black in "Bernie." (Millennium Entertainment)

(Shirley MacLaine photo courtesy:  transdiffusion.org)


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